Celebrate Christmas, Pakistan!

Published: December 21, 2014

Minority Pakistani Christians walk on an alley past Christmas decorations in Islamabad. PHOTO : AFP

This is arguably my most favourite time of the year. The spirit of Christmas brings joy, hope and brings about a pleasant change in people’s outlook. There’s positive energy in the air and everyone seems to be optimistic, passionate and blessed.

We, in the United States, have had a tough 2014. Things haven’t been all that great. Gun violence, race-centric crimes, rising debt, foreign policy misadventures, terrorism, wars, and worst of all, a Republican victory in the mid-term elections have marred the proceedings and tainted our morale.

But, this is a resilient nation. It has seen the worst and the darkest of times. When all seems to be lost, America always manages to bounce back. In the recent times, there’ve been one mishap after the other but we’ve struggled hard, pulled our socks up and gotten down to work toward the betterment of affairs.

Amidst all the scepticism and tension that exists in the country today, one amazing virtue is that people never forget to give and share. There’s this willingness and a nagging urge to be charitable and not to forget the less fortunate ones amongst us. Christmas is a mood changer that elevates emotions to the highest levels and facilitates in building strong relationships and breaking walls of hatred and animosity – a message that resonates with happiness and delight for all and sundry. Christmas in the US is not for the followers of one particular sect, faith or religion – it’s a day to unite, get together and celebrate the existence of each and every soul in this nation of a little more than 300 million people.

Yes, I do sound euphoric and nostalgic. And, yes, we are infested with social, psychological, economic and political problems. I understand all that and I can go on and on like a broken record about the ailments that engulf America but today I’m trying to stay positive and look forward in anticipation of better times that will bring peace and light our way.

I also understand that the world is undergoing tremendous amounts of turmoil. Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan are mourning the loss of utterly innocent lives in Peshawar and continue to grieve. The more one thinks about the events that rocked Pakistan on December 16, the deeper one gets drowned in a historical maze of its recent history that is nothing but a sad spectre of betrayal, of promise and trust that the people imposed on the country’s leadership.

I’m cognisant of the fact that Christmas in Pakistan is mostly a Christian concern. Pakistanis often reminisce about the past and mention how wonderful the country was not too long ago. While I stay affirmative to that, I also like to remind my friends that Christmas was a reverend and respected holiday for the entire nation in the good old days. As times changed and sectarian, ethnic and communal gaps widened, Christmas and Christians today stand as an isolated community finding it difficult to stand up to and fight the upheavals of time.

Despite Jinnah’s pledge to protect the rights and civil liberties of the minorities, it appears that things worked out absolutely otherwise. While Christians are butchered and burnt alive, Hindu temples are desecrated, mullahs chant anti-Shiite slogans at the top of their lungs, Pakistan’s spirit and unity stand broken and decimated. The values and strings that bring nations together, the respect for diversity and the very strategic dimension that holds a country strong, is all lost in thin air.

Pakistan is tottering today and down on its knees. Let’s face it and make clear that no external power can fix the situation. The change and the will to improve the environment has to come from within. The days of handholding by foreign forces are over. A good start in an effort to initiate unity amongst the ranks could be to call a conference of scholars from different faiths and talk about ideas to coexist. Discussing general good for all instead of a few is, after all, not a sin.

Granted that Pakistan is a classed society whereby, in addition to a dominant religion, there are too many cultural taboos, listening to respectable, educated minds will only help in creating a better understanding amongst different communities. Communication lines must open up and a dialogue should be kicked off to see what can possibly be done to bring people of different backgrounds together. Minorities face terrible isolation in Pakistan and this is the prime reason fundamentalist Islam has overwhelmed every other faith.

I know that soon after the Peshawar massacre, prominent politicians got together and decided to make a collaborated effort to tackle terrorism. The fact that the ‘stalwarts’ sitting at the meeting decided to involve the military and the intelligence agencies in the effort is an appropriate step. However, it appears that they completely neglected the importance of working with different religious communities that would, in the long run, be fruitful and beneficial to harmonise relations at the cultural and societal levels. After all, the scourge of fundamentalism has its roots in too much distorted Islam but too little faith in God’s edicts and commands to show tolerance and treat everyone equally and in a just manner.

In the modern day US, children are taught to never see colour but just the heart. I know things have been a little messy lately but Pakistan can certainly learn a lesson or two from America about a well-coordinated, tolerant society. There are folks who celebrate every religious festival here yet are able to stay away from emotionally investing in any specific organised faith. Yours truly happens to be one such person. For me Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali are all signs of a vibrant, functional and robust society and the greatest indications of acknowledging the existence of God in more ways than one. I’m blessed with friends from all backgrounds and religions, and consider them as part of my family setup.

Mother Nature and Father Time are against Pakistan more so because the country’s leadership chose to play with fire and live dangerously for far too long. God and peace checked out of there decades ago. Evil is alive, kicking and thriving. Pakistan is on a kill diet. These nefarious trends need to be stopped. There’s lots of emotional outburst seen these days to end terrorism. What will matter at the end of the day is the ability of the Pakistani nation to be strong willed enough to force a change that will bring the good’ol times back.

Perhaps intra-religious, sectarian and ethnic cohesion could be used as a starting point to forge a common front against the enemy?

This will help eliminate roadblocks to intolerance and detestation found amongst different sections of society. Sometimes a great change brings about greater opportunities.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea if Pakistan and Pakistanis come forward and show solidarity with members of their minority community and participate in their festivities with zeal and zest. How about recognising religious days of different minorities and declaring those days as national holidays too, like Eid? I did not come up with this recommendation out of the blue since I have a concrete, real life example to back me up, that being Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Indonesia officially recognises six different religions, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, and observes holidays at the national level whenever a religious festival of any of these faiths occurs. Mind you, Indonesia is a glittering example of intra-religious unity and a healthy democracy.

It’s all about the desire to make some hard choices, the fire in the belly of a nation that is faced with desperate times. We are all human beings created by God. At the end of the day, all of us need each other. Just like any other festival, from a religious perspective, Christmas is an occasion to forgive and seek God’s mercy. In the same spirit, Pakistanis can start mopping away the chaos by joining hands with their Christian brethren and start a tradition to celebrate with vigour an age-old festival.

Is it too much to ask or shall we say Amen to that?

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • James

    I wonder how Pakistanis suddenly have a change of thought and starts appreciating multiculturalism the moment they leave “Land of Pure” and start living in United States or European countries….If living in those countries change the perception of Pakistanis looking on minorities, I wish all Pakistanis leave their “Land of Pure” and migrate to US or Europe…Recommend

  • Saad

    Guess what? Eid in the US and Europe is a mostly Muslim concern. Firstly, I will say that I believe that people of different religions and hues should be totally protected and live the same level of freedom and security as afforded to citizens of a dominant ethnic/religious class. I, however, strongly disagree with the writer’s proposal for more national holidays. I live in the UK and as one of the most established democracies in the world, national holidays only occur according to the Christian calendar…there is no commemoration of any other religious festival and nor should there be any as long as those who celebrate their religious festivals are given time off (which they are). I feel that we should acknowledge other religious festivals (the prime minister can throw a dinner and send out a message) as happens in most societies but really there is no need to have a national holiday spree in the name of religious tolerance when (a) the state can’t even afford basic human safeguards to minorities and (b) those holidays are realistically of no significance to the vast majority of Pakistanis. The author is confusing conflicting issues in my opinion: celebrating religious events as national holidays is not going to protect Pakistan’s minorities or encourage racial integration.Recommend

  • Indian

    Amen !
    December 1st starts me off in anticipation of the winter holidays & Christmas. The month of December,really is a mood changer.
    May the Almighty help us all,love each other more, hate less ,forgive our enemies…& help us all do the harder thing ,of taking the higher road.
    Hope next year has fewer ghoulish international incidents.
    A Merry Christmas, to you,dear Author & to everyone else.
    Hope to read more from you,next year.Recommend

  • Pak Patriot

    Muslims would be tolerant of other religions, had it not been for the wicked and intolerant misbehaviour of their illiterate mullahs, who mess up their minds.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    “celebrating religious events as national holidays is not going to protect Pakistan’s minorities or encourage racial integration”

    Correct. The rot is too deep. These symbolic gesture will have no effect.Recommend

  • Agrippa – The Skeptic

    “celebrating religious events as national holidays is not going to protect Pakistan’s minorities or encourage racial integration.”

    What the author is saying is that if people celebrate each others festival together, they do not kill each other and I dare say – his hypothesis is right!Recommend

  • Arif Jamal

    Great article!
    Now the need it for many people in Pakistan (specially FATA, South Punjab and KPK) to read this, which I doubt ever will happen.Recommend

  • Hozur

    Muslims of course are tolerant only if they are in a minority but when the are in amajority it is a different story and the constant pressure to conver t starts and so minoirites are seeking desperate routes to leave the land of the pure..quicklyRecommend

  • Faulitics

    Its an hypotheses which has been proved to be faulty time after time. But its a nice thought.Recommend

  • Freeman

    Oh, noooooooo! A thousand times no!Recommend

  • Freeman

    Are you sure about that, Mr. Patriot. Someone else to blame for personal failings . . . .? You made a comment about “illiterate mullahs” – but aren’t they a reflection of the literacy rate in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Freeman

    Wait until a religious minority reaches a certain percentage of the population. Then there is a demand for recognizing its religious holidays. (Even though their numbers are small one hopes, there is a group of fundamentalist Muslims in the UK who are demanding sharia law for all Britons. Anjem Choudhary’s group comes to mind.)Recommend